We all get to give
Kevin and Marilyn Wilder embrace the joy of generosity
Some of us don’t feel wealthy enough to be generous with our money. “I can’t afford to give thousands of dollars to the nonprofit I like, and I’d feel silly sending them $10, so I won’t give anything,” we tell ourselves.
But generosity for some people is a given. Donating money to their church and other causes they support is a big part of who they are.
For Kevin and Marilyn Wilder of Hesston, Kansas, being charitable as adults started when they were growing up in Indiana.
“In the homes we were raised in, it was hardwired” to be generous with your resources, Marilyn said. Kevin’s parents, Keith and Donna Wilder, and Marilyn’s parents, Merrill and Julia Hall, made it clear that giving is an essential part of life as a Christian.
Marilyn is a District Court judge in Kansas, presiding over criminal and civil jury trials, as well as all kinds of legal matters that don’t require trials.
Kevin has been teaching at Hesston College for more than 20 years and has served as youth pastor, campus pastor and, for 2021, is interim lead pastor of Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston.
To the church and beyond
Marilyn said when she was growing up, “Our families gave, mostly for the church, but also supported missionaries, supported mission organizations – it was just a given that if you follow Christ, you give part of your income.”
Kevin had a talk with his father that made a lasting impression. “As a boy, I told my dad – ‘I think I know what giving is. It’s like a God tax.’ He said, ‘It’s not a tax. You get to give.’ Giving is joyous, a part of worship. That was modeled very well for me by my father.”
Kevin believes in Hesston College, and thought it would be nice if new graduates helped make it possible for future students to attend the college.
So he and Marilyn started nudging the grads about 15 years ago. Kevin told the college’s development director that he and Marilyn wanted to help graduates incorporate generosity into their lives.
Kevin decided to give each student a silver dollar and a $2 bill at the annual graduate dinner. The students are asked to donate $1 to the college now, $2 a year later, and then continue to double their contribution each year.
The donations are a manageable amount for a young adult, and the college development staff believe “it plants a seed,” Kevin said. “You don’t have to give a lot, but if we give collectively …”
A habit of giving back
As Rachel Swartzendruber Miller says, “It’s more about the habit of giving back, and the graduates keep giving back.” The message is that making a positive impact isn’t about who has the deepest pockets.
Swartzendruber Miller is Vice President of Advancement for Hesston College and has known Kevin for more than 20 years.
“I don’t know who gave and who didn’t,” Kevin said. “I never wanted to know.”
Marilyn and Kevin enjoy deciding where their own charitable donations will go.
“Those are fun conversations for us,” Kevin said. “There’s just a joy about that.”
Marilyn said, “We don’t give exclusively to the church. We look for organizations that we have a personal connection with, such as if we’re on the board of a nonprofit.”
She added, “If an organization is involved in things we believe Christ would support, we support those.”
And Kevin said, “Almost everybody we give to, they’re friends of ours and they need resources. Giving to the college is giving to my friends. So it’s relationally driven. It’s a way to expand the kingdom, but why wouldn’t you want to help your friends?”